Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Cultivating Religious Leadership

November 28, 2013

Cultivating Religious Leadership

I am the problem. And when I say “I”, it encompasses imported short-term religious, educational, communal leadership around the globe. We are short-term solutions. We are band-aids. We only prolong the reliance of the community on unsustainable transplants with little at stake in the long-term interests of the populations we serve.

Yes, we may be idealistic. Yes, we may be working day and night. Yes, we may be efficient and competent. Yes, we may have the best intentions. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are foreign agents in the host body. By the time the body starts to accept the transplant, we are removed, replaced by yet another transplant. The body never gets the chance to heal, to stabilize, to grow strong, to stand on its own feet.

Serious Study Group
Serious Study Group

Once I realized so-called “solutions” were really the problem, it was fittingly ironic that I felt what some might consider the “problems” – the local population with a whole range of normal “faults”, be it religious, educational, philosophical, ideological, behavioral or other, the people we came to “help” – they are actually the solution.

With that clarity, my plan of action became clear. If I am not the solution, then I would at least strive to be a catalyst in the transformation and creation of solutions.

One part of my plan, which unsurprisingly met with some resistance by some classic “solution” promoters, was to develop local religious leadership. When I first suggested the idea months ago, besides the opposition, I was met with laughter, dismissal and ridicule by many. I ignored them and already in a few short months we have had success beyond my wildest expectations.

I offered to a group of men active in the community and synagogue life to undertake a rigorous study of the Jewish Laws of the Sabbath, based on the same sources and methodology I myself had learned for my own Rabbinic ordination.

The turnout was more than I imagined. Several dropped out of the program, but ten, yes, ten hardy, diligent, serious souls have so far put in time and sweat into the program. We have finished the first stage of many more stages of the program, but I am filled with hope and optimism that the future religious leadership of the community has been gathering in my dining room regularly. They are here for the long run. They have everything at stake in this community. They are the first piece of the puzzle.

Presentation of Certificates for completion of first stage of program
Presentation of Certificates for completion of first stage of program

I have other catalytic plans in mind and in the works. Some may be counterintuitive, against the conventional wisdom, perhaps controversial, even risky, but I expect nothing else will serve to banish the problems that are considered solutions and empower the solutions that are thought of as problems.

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